- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Friday, October 05, 2007

New York to Outlaw Standing on the Sidewalk?


Get this - New York police are on the verge of convincing the State that it should be illegal to stand on the pavement. Rediculous as it may sound, a case has actually gone to court there which will consider this question. See this from the New York Times blogroom. This, in a country that calls itself democratic. Are people so unreasonable in this country that they need laws and police to tell them when they are standing in the way? And what about the other people who had to go around them? Are they not able to say "excuse me, you are in the way"? Do you really need police involvement in a situation like this?

Earlier this year there was a story in the BBC of police in another US city (Atlanta) tackling a man for crossing the street. Now I begin to understand why it is that Americans often get so excited about how well they are treated when they go overseas - not only is it safe and convenient to walk on the street, but you are also treated as an adult. What a revelation! In Australia, Americans are amazed at buttons pedestrians can press which make the lights change and stop the cars so they can cross the street. I found this humourous because Japanese people visiting Australia often get very frustrated with the fact that the pedestrian lights will be red until you press the button so you generally have to wait one and a half cycles of the auto lights anyway, whereas in Japan pedestrian lights will generally change regularly and in sync with slower traffic so you get a comparatively clear run (or I should say walk) - and that is only on the main roads. Back streets generally don't have lights at all.

The very word "sidewalk" shows how Americans now treat pedestrian traffic as auxiliary to the motor vehicle. In the UK, telling a person that they could not stand on the pavement would be akin to violating the constitution - the commons are for all to be shared. Lose that and you no longer live in a democracy. In Japan also, shops and restaurants flow directly onto the streets, where pedestrians, joggers, cyclists and motorists share the road quite happily.

I begin to understand also why Japanese people are often so shocked about "violence" in North American, Australia and other Western nations. It is not so much a fear of being mugged or raped, but a general impression of how (un)safe it is to walk down the street in these cities.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You think that is bizzare? How about this one for the ultimate American auto story:

- wheelchair user going down "sidewalk" minding his own business gets caught up in grill of truck while leaving gas station. Driver is completely unaware (how could he not notice?!) and drives down highway at high speed with this guy tacked to his front grill like some moose horns.